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Some thoughts on the US election
Paul Lin

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The US presidential election campaign has entered the final stages. After the Democratic and Republican parties held their conventions, the candidates have now entered the debate stage. Although different opinion polls have indicated different levels of support for the incumbent president and vice president, the overall picture seems to be that senators John Kerry and John Edwards have a small lead over President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Bush is focusing on national security, while Kerry doesn't seem to have any clear opinions and seems satisfied with attacking Bush over the Iraq war and economic policy. Maybe the final election outcome will be similar to what happened in Taiwan's latest presidential election, where the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) seemed to have the lead, but in the end lost -- albeit by the smallest of margins.

Because the US economy is in the middle of an upturn, Kerry's attacks on Bush's economic policy will not be very effective, and the decisive battle will probably be fought over the Iraq war. Kerry is afraid of rejecting the war on terror and therefore aims his main attack at Bush's war in Iraq. But that doesn't mean that Bush can be complacent about his stand on the war on terror.

There have been no terrorist bombings in the US lately. But if there were to be a major terrorist attack in the US before the election -- something similar to the train bombing in Madrid -- there could be a change in public opinion, causing the incumbent government to lose. But terrorists cannot rely on wishful thinking. Maybe Americans will react differently to the Spanish, perhaps becoming more fervently nationalistic and giving Bush even stronger support, just as happened after Sept. 11.

This presidential election may thus be decided by an assessment of the war in Iraq. Although Bush in the beginning seemed to be winning the war, the handover of government power to the Iraqis wasn't smooth, to say the least. This led to problems in the postwar occupation, such as the US' inability to put a quick stop to guerilla-style terrorist activities, and an increasing death toll. This is Bush's biggest weakness in this election.

A similar political and military approach was attempted by the Japanese during their occupation of China, and by Chiang Kai-shek when he surrounded the Chinese communists. Their failure was due to their undemocratic political strategies. The US must highlight the fact that this is a war of democracy against dictatorship to make the Iraqi people remember the terror of former president Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule. This will help ensure that in the future they value the right to be masters of their own house. Only by doing so will it be possible to overcome the Iraqi people's hostility against foreign troops.

It is still too early to make a final assessment of the war in Iraq. People said 50 years ago that US intervention in the Korean War was the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place, so Americans have done their best to forget that war. But looking back at that war today, we have to wonder how much there would be left of the free world had the Americans not intervened. At the least, the "Asian tigers" probably would not have come into existence. We must also wonder whether the North Korean nuclear issue would now be limited to North Korea only, and whether Japan might not also have become "red."

Now, although Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons, we have seen Libya's Muammar Qaddafi abandon his terrorist policies. Although North Korea is continuing to create problems, China no longer dares support it openly and is now forced to pretend to be on the same side as the US and apply pressure on North Korea in the six-nation talks.

Both China and Taiwan are paying close attention to the US presidential election. Although the Chinese government outwardly remains neutral, public opinion is clearly on Kerry's side because his cross-strait policy does not mention the Taiwan Relations Act that so displeases China, and because once, in a slip of the tongue, he supported a solution of the Taiwan issue within China's "one country, two systems" framework. China therefore has better expectations of Kerry.

Two months ago, there was some information saying that Chinese President Hu Jintao (would visit the US this month. After the information was leaked, it then appeared that US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was paving the way for such a visit when she visited Beijing. If Hu does visit the US this month, it will be interpreted as support for Bush. Maybe because Beijing is asking too high a price for such a visit, it now seems it will not take place. Instead, the 80/20 Committee, which enjoys a good relationship with Beijing, is urging ethnic Chinese to vote for the Democratic candidate.

Although Taiwan remains neutral, there must be questions concerning Kerry's remarks. Presidential advisor Koo Kuan-min's recent ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post requesting that the US review its "one China" policy were quickly rejected by the US government in a clear attempt to avoid having external factors affect the presidential election campaign. The "one China" policy issue, however, is not only an issue when deciding whom to vote for -- it is also an issue that the next US president should resolve.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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